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Area reviews: 7 things we've learned from the new government guidance

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Today the government published its post-16 area review guidance document, detailing how its new area reviews for post-16 institutions will work. 

Here are seven things we learned.

  1. Every college is being urged to take part, and the outcomes of the reviews are “likely to touch on all colleges”, according to skills minister Nick Boles. In some cases, he says, this may involve curriculum rationalisation (ie, cutting courses), while in others restructuring is likely to be needed.
  2. The sector can expect more policy announcements before the year is out. In his foreword, Nick Boles says: “In particular we expect to say more around the development of Institutes of Technology, devolution to localities and routes to employment later in the year.”
  3. Where an area review takes place, its analysis will take the place of a structures and prospects appraisal (SPA), and there will be no need for a separate SPA process. However, an area review will not prevent urgent government intervention from going ahead in a particular college.
  4. Each review will be led by a local steering group composed of “a range of stakeholders” with an independent chair. Areas with devolution deals are expected to take a leading role in their area reviews.
  5. Government finance will be provided only as a “last resort”. Colleges, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and local authorities with devolved skills budgets will be expected to provide funding and support to implement changes, on the basis that they will be saving money in the long run.
  6. Area reviews will be triggered in two ways – by a risk assessment from the FE commissioner, sixth form college commissioner and the funding agencies, or by a local area coming forward with its own proposals. (And local areas that want to bring forward a “proactive proposal” of their own will have to send it by email, to area.reviews@education.gsi.gov.uk.)
  7. A typical timescale for a review is expected to be three to four months. The government expects tham all to have been completed by March 2017.

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